Plié, tendu, bourrée and arabesque are some of the lovely phonetic words from the dictionary of ballet, a beautifully stunning art form in which emotions are expressed through the movement of dance. But one does not simply dance a pas de deux right out of the gate. Nicola Ciotta believes that to be properly trained in ballet, it must begin at an early age, which is why she started Baby Ballet Long Island. The founder and mom of her own little ballerina has been holding Mommy and Me ballet classes across Long Island, and the reception has been astounding.
“I studied at the Northern Ballet School in England on a full-time course from the age of 16 to 19,” said Ciotta, who graduated with a teaching certification with the Royal Academy of Dance and the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, which are world-recognized teaching qualifications in the dance world. “I danced professionally for seven years all over the world in different companies. I met my now-husband, John, along the way—he’s a Long Island boy—and we settled here with our baby daughter Rose.”
When Rose began to walk, Ciotta started looking for a Mommy and Me ballet class to do with her daughter, as she showed an interest in dance. Unable to find a specific class that offered what she wanted, Ciotta started her own with a group of local children, establishing a Facebook page and renting out a small room in Coram.
“We had about six children that came and I did it purely so Rose and I could do a class together. Word got out and we grew and grew and now it’s a full-time job for me,” said Ciotta of the creation of Baby Ballet Long Island. “Now we have around 300 little ballerinas a week. We take from walking age when they’re steady on their feet, about 18 months to 4 years old.”
To find space for her blossoming business, Ciotta reached out to recreation centers and community play spaces, asking for an empty room and a plug socket, if possible. Everything else in terms of props and music, she brings with her and has been doing so for the past three years.
“We teach seven days a week as far east as West Islip and as far west as Lawrence and we are continuing to grow,” said Ciotta, adding that she differs from a traditional dance studio in many ways. “How I founded Baby Ballet is short sessions, no uniforms, no recitals and it’s super affordable and something everyone can do.”
Parents pay for a 10-block session for either the Mommy and Me class (18 months to 2 ½) or the advanced toddler class (2 ½ to 4 years old), which runs from September to December, January to March and April to June, even though tiny dancers tend to stay for the whole year. Baby Ballet also offers a four-week long summer workshop series in which children are introduced to the classical ballets of Swan Lake, Don Quixote, Sleeping Beauty and A Midsummer Night’s Dream through costume and music. There is also a very popular Nutcracker workshop around Christmas time as well.
The earliest class begins at 9:30 a.m. and the latest class is at 5 p.m., which is perfect for working parents. Classes are 30 minutes long and from the warm-up to the curtsy at the end, Ciotta has her ballerinas learning more than just basic footwork.
“We do ‘good toes,’ which teaches them to point their toes and we use a lot of props,” said Ciotta of helping children learn through visualization. “Although to them it doesn’t feel like they’re learning, I am sneakily teaching them things like popping bubbles with one gentle finger to help them use their fingers independently; rocking babies, which helps them lean to transfer weight from one foot to the other and we dance with scarves to get a nice flowing of the arms.”
A firm believer that ballet is an excellent discipline, Ciotta believes that her ballet training helped her in other avenues throughout her career, especially when going on interviews; she was always poised and well-presented. The same holds true for her dance students as well.
“A lot of the children come in and they’re very shy but by the end of the 10 weeks their confidence is boosted and they talk with other children. I like to say I teach it right, right from the start, so even though they’re toddlers, there’s no reason for them to not be doing it properly,” she said. “I love this age group; they keep me on my toes and I feel like I’ve given them a good foundation to go on to a dance studio. My heart is really in this and everybody enjoys it so much.”
With parents’ word of mouth as her biggest advertisement, Ciotta sees how much not only the children enjoy Baby Ballet, but the parents as well.
“It’s great bonding, to have that time and those memories with your child at that early age. You’ll be surprised what a 2-year-old can learn,” said Ciotta. “Introducing them to the world of ballet, it’s my love and I want to pass that onto them.”
For more information about Baby Ballet Long Island in your area, visit www.babyballetlongisland.com, follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/babyballetlongisland and on Instagram @babyballetlongisland.